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Secret Internet copyright talks raise concerns

A secret trade negotiation going on in Seoul, South Korea this week could lead to your Internet service provider snooping in on your Web activity.

That’s the fear held by some civil rights and public interest groups, which complained to President Obama Thursday that the negotiations should be open for public scrutiny. The U.S. Trade Representative is a leading party in the talks and drafted a chapter of the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement that deals with copyrighted material on the Internet.

The groups, which include Public Knowledge and the Sunlight Foundation, wrote in a letter that the secrecy of the process – and on an issue that could have broad implications for Web users – could unfairly the benefit content providers that are most actively involved in the process.

“We applaud your promise of a more transparent, collaborative and participatory government,” the groups wrote. “However, multiple aspects of ACTA fail to meet these standards.”

The USTR is joined in the talks by representatives from three dozen nations, including European Union members as well as and Japan and South Korea. The goal of the two-year effort is to establish a broad treaty on copyrighted material, covering everything from designer handbags to digital downloads of video.

On the Internet portion of the proposed treaty, legal professors, including Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa, say that it appears to allow content producers, such as movie studios, music labels and book authors, to hold Internet service providers liable for the illegal exchange of material. That means they may be able to sue access providers such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast if Web users illegally download music or pirate material using those companies' networks. Public interest groups said that would prompt ISPs to monitor the content of traffic on their networks by filtering data.

“With respect to ACTA’s substance, we remain concerned that the terms may not
adequately account for all of the interests that would be affected,” the groups wrote in their letter. “The public and the industries enabling such uses would face crippling liability under an improperly calibrated intellectual property regime. ACTA could increase the risk of participating governments taking an imbalanced approach.”

By Cecilia Kang  |  November 5, 2009; 7:15 PM ET
Categories:  AT&T , Consumers , Verizon  
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This entry demonstrates Cecilia Kang's closeness to Google-funded and Google-controlled lobbying groups -- several of which signed the referenced letter.

Google's search engines, and also Youtube (which is owned by Google), rely on keeping copies of, and retransmitting, others' copyrighted material to attract users' eyeballs. So, Google naturally wants the protections for creators of that material to be as weak as possible. Its lobbyists are, of course, dismayed that a treaty which might provide better protections for authors in the Internet age appears to be in the works.

Again, we see a strong bias in Ms. Kang's writing toward Google's corporate interests and agenda.

Posted by: squirma | November 6, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Nice reply by a corporate schill of the movie or music studios.

The fact is, this treaty is ridiculous and the fact the Obama administration is even negotiating these terms is wrong. This treaty would allow your ISP to legally enforce a blanket removal of an Internet service account if anyone in the household is accused of piracy, without proof. There are no legal safeguards in this treaty, and it does not conform to U.S. law. Basically, this treaty is giving away U.S. citizens rights to due process to corporations.

This is obviously not what people signed up for when they voted for President Obama. I wish this entry by Ms. King was read by everyone and commented upon because this is a very important issue, the U.S. public just doesn't know it yet.

Posted by: CJMARTIN04 | November 6, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

So, to be clear, this is a one-sided report that simply reflects the views of a single - highly interested - position. Notwithstanding the fact that none of those people would know what a "secret" draft says, Cecilia Kang has done absolutely nothing to illustrate how the *lack* of action on counterfeiting would impact consumers or the economy. If there's anything in this post that isn't just cut-and-paste from the free culture folks, I'd like someone to point it out to me.

Ms. Kang, how would these proposals as reported to you by the Free Culture guys "unfairly the benefit content providers," whatever that means? How does reducing counterfeiting damage "unfairly benefit" anyone? Nobody's getting a business advantage out of this - it's an effort to reduce damage from highly illegal activities.

Posted by: jackmant | November 6, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

"CJMARTIN04", I do not work for any movie studio or record company. However, I am a musician and composer myself. And, frankly, the lobbying being done by Google's "Future of Music Coalition" (which is a coalition of Google-funded lobbying groups) should worry anyone who does any form of creative work. The group is lobbying to weaken copyright protections for artists, and also to set up barriers to copyright enforcement on the Internet (which is, today, a criminal free-for-all).

As an ISP, I am in a difficult position. I am not equipped to monitor every connection for copyright infringement, nor can I even tell whether a particular download is legal or not. (I am not omniscient, and so cannot tell whether someone paid money for the right to download a particular piece of music, video, etc.). On the other hand, as an ethical and law-abiding human being, I am troubled by the fact that my facilities and services are being used to break the law and violate the terms of service of my network (which prohibit the use of my network for illegal activities). No one should stand idly by while his property is used for illegal activities -- whether it's a "crack house" or a computer network that's used for criminal copyright infringement.

Therefore, if I am notified by law enforcement that copyright infringement is occurring, and there is due process, I will gladly cooperate with law enforcement authorities to stop it. After all, if there are no penalties for copyright infringement, we might as well not have copyright at all.

While the terms of this treaty are obviously still being worked out behind closed doors, it won't be binding until it is ratified by the Senate, at which point its terms will be made public and there will be ample opportunity for public comment. Again, if the treaty provides for enhanced copyright enforcement, allows for due process, and ensures that anyone who is penalized for copyright infringement is truly guilty of it, I think it would be a good thing and in fact long overdue.

Posted by: squirma | November 6, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

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